Department of Geobotany
We focus on investigation of structure, development and dynamics of plant communities mostly of Slovakia and Europe, aiming at:
• vegetation survey, syntaxonomical reviews, surveys and comparative analyses, completing the expert system (ES) for identification of plant communities of all syntaxa which is followed by linking ES on habitat scale;
• syntheses of vegetation data either on regional (national) scale summarized in monograph series ‘Plant communities of Slovakia’, or on supra-regional (continental) scale bordered orographically, phytogeographically, or administratively. The series represents a comprehensive vegetation survey of the territory that is of marked importance for science and the national culture.
The tool for achieving these aims is a well-structured vegetation database – the Central Database of Phytosociological Relevés of Slovakia (CDF), established in 1995. Since then it is continuously supplemented with new records, and the quality of stored data has improved. The aim is to assemble all available phytosociological relevés from Slovakia and adjacent territories. The database provides the basis for national and supra-national classification overviews and other scientific studies. It can be linked to any international database and supports not only data exchange, but also enables cooperation within bi- or multilateral projects on the supra-regional level (e.g. the Carpathians). By the end of 2015, the database comprised more than 40,000 published and almost 20,000 unpublished relevés. In 2012 our institute joined the European Vegetation Archive (EVA) – a centralized database of European vegetation plots developed under the patronage of The International Association for Vegetation Science (IAVS).
We also address the following topics:
• Invasive alien species and the level of invasion of individual habitats, exploring the diversity, distribution, spreading pattern, ecology and coenology of alien species of vascular plants, and the vulnerability of habitats to invasions. We focus on evaluation of the level of invasion of forest habitats and on characterization of the effects of selected environmental factors, forest management types and changes in the horizontal and vertical structure of stands on the level of invasion of habitats.
• Vegetation dynamics, spatio-temporal changes and restoration, vegetation surveying. Many semi-natural or even natural habitats are in an unfavourable state of conservation due to succession induced by natural or man-made changes. We test the long-term effects of different management treatments in the ecological restoration of various habitats, mainly semi-dry, mesic and wet grasslands (fens), and we set the conditions for their suitable application. We also compare the effects of indigenous and introduced wild herbivores (ungulates and large rodents) on the state of mountain ecosystems and plant diversity. We evaluate changes after large-scale restorations and monitor thetemporal dynamics and vegetation changes in anthropogenic non-forest habitats to estimate future trends in the composition of grassland vegetation. Data processing and transformation into maps through GIS techniques result in an interpretation of observed spatio-temporal changes in vegetation and in the development of predictive models. We deal with ecology of vegetation types that are, e.g., endangered or under threat of extinction (e.g. wetlands, halophilous grasslands, alder forests, alpine communities) mostly due to successional changes induced by land management or climate change.
Regarding applied research, we address questions of importance of the natural world management testing various hypothesis concerned to the dynamics of environmental change and complex ecosystem interactions. We use various vegetation types as a laboratory for our research and search for main patterns influencing diversity at different scales, what are the main drivers of diversity or/and which ecosystems are the most sensitive to potential or real changes.
• Water ecosystems – vulnerable habitats influencing the landscape. We investigate the diversity, species composition, mutual interactions and relationships with adjoining communities, the ecology of macrophytes and important groups of invertebrates, inhabiting various water bodies in the Pannonian-Carpathian region – a European biodiversity hot-spot. We focus on animal-plant interactions and abiotic factors related to the most important agents that influence the diversity, variability and structure of these ecosystems. Our main aims are to precisely describe the regions’ biodiversity at the molecular, species and community levels, to identify groups of aquatic organisms which could serve as predictors (flagship species) of regional diversity and to characterize conditions that will ensure the preservation of the highest possible biodiversity in the area of interest.
We perform studies in ecology of plant communities and population biology of selected plant species, exploring the relationship of vegetation to environmental factors, including human impacts (e.g. different types of management and synanthropisation). The obtained environmental data are aimed to develop indicators for the assessment of vegetation. We analyze the size, age and genetic structure of populations of selected plant species and also their changes related to the altering environmental conditions.
Applied research is important part of our work; members of our team apply their knowledge in implementation of European environmental legislation, in particular Directive 92/43/EEC on the Conservation of natural habitats connected with the establishment of the Natura 2000 network. The department is equipped with the laboratory for the analysis of basic soil characteristics. Plant material collected during our research is stored in the Herbarium of the Institute of Botany SAS.